Should economics study the psychological basis of agents' choice behaviour? I show how this question is multifaceted and profoundly ambiguous. There is no sharp distinction between "mentalist'' answers to this question and rival "behavioural'' answers. What's more, clarifying this point raises problems for mentalists of the "functionalist'' variety (Dietrich and List, 2016). Firstly, functionalist hypotheses collapse into hypotheses about input--output dispositions, I show, unless one places some unwelcome restrictions on what counts as a cognitive variable. Secondly, functionalist hypotheses make some (...) risky commitments about the plasticity of agents' choice dispositions. (shrink)
I distinguish several doctrines that economic methodologists have found attractive, all of which have a positivist flavour. One of these is the doctrine that preference assignments in economics are just shorthand descriptions of agents' choice behaviour. Although most of these doctrines are problematic, the latter doctrine about preference assignments is a respectable one, I argue. It doesn't entail any of the problematic doctrines, and indeed it is warranted independently of them.
When evaluating theories of causation, intuitions should not play a decisive role, not even intuitions in flawlessly-designed thought experiments. Indeed, no coherent theory of causation can respect the typical person’s intuitions in redundancy (pre-emption) thought experiments, without disrespecting their intuitions in threat-and-saviour (switching / short-circuit) thought experiments. I provide a deductively sound argument for these claims. Amazingly, this argument assumes absolutely nothing about the nature of causation. I also provide a second argument, whose conclusion is even stronger: the typical person’s (...) causal intuitions are thoroughly unreliable. This argument proceeds by raising the neglected question: in what respects is information about intermediate and enabling variables relevant to reliable causal judgment? (shrink)
Some explanations are relatively abstract: they abstract away from the idiosyncratic or messy details of the case in hand. The received wisdom in philosophy is that this is a virtue for any explanation to possess. I argue that the apparent consensus on this point is illusory. When philosophers make this claim, they differ on which of four alternative varieties of abstractness they have in mind. What’s more, for each variety of abstractness there are several alternative reasons to think that the (...) variety of abstractness in question is a virtue. I identify the most promising reasons, and dismiss some others. The paper concludes by relating this discussion to the idea that explanations in biology, psychology and social science cannot be replaced by relatively micro explanations without loss of understanding. (shrink)
Neuroeconomics is a research programme founded on the thesis that cognitive and neurobiological data constitute evidence for answering economic questions. I employ confirmation theory in order to reject arguments both for and against neuroeconomics. I also emphasize that some arguments for neuroeconomics will not convince the skeptics because these arguments make a contentious assumption: economics aims for predictions and deep explanations of choices in general. I then argue for neuroeconomics by appealing to a much more restrictive (and thereby skeptic-friendly) characterization (...) of the aims of economics. (shrink)
Some explanations in social science, psychology and biology belong to a higher level than other explanations. And higher explanations possess the virtue of abstracting away from the details of lower explanations, many philosophers argue. As a result, these higher explanations are irreplaceable. And this suggests that there are genuine higher laws or patterns involving social, psychological and biological states. I show that this ‘abstractness argument’ is really an argument schema, not a single argument. This is because the argument uses the (...) ‘is lower than’ relation, and this relation admits of different readings. I then suggest four rigorous definitions of the ‘is lower than’ relation, and show that the abstractness argument’s prospects are much brighter for some of these definitions than for others. To show this, I evaluate the so-called ‘disjunctive threat’ to the abstractness argument. (shrink)
A good definition of process tracing should highlight what is distinctive about process tracing as a methodology of causal inference. I look at eight criteria that are used to define process tracing in the methodological literature, and I dismiss all eight criteria as unhelpful (some because they are too restrictive, and others because they are vacuous). In place of these criteria, I propose four alternative criteria, and I draw a distinction between process tracing for the ultimate aim of testing a (...) start--end hypothesis versus process tracing as an ultimate end in itself. Although it is clear enough how the former method works, there is still much methodological work to be done in understanding the latter method as a distinctive method of causal inference, I argue. (shrink)
The dominance in normal awareness of visual percepts, which are linked to space, obscures the fact that most thoughts are non-spatial. It is argued that the mind is intrinsically non-spatial, though in perception can become compresent with spatial things derived from outside the mind. The assumption that the brain is entirely spatial is also challenged, on the grounds that there is a perfectly good place for the non-spatial in physics. A quantum logic approach to physics, which takes non-locality as its (...) starting point, offers a non-reductive way of reconciling the experience of mind with the world description of physics. For further progress it is necessary to place mind first as the key aspect of the universe. (shrink)
This chapter explores the idea of one variable making a causal contribution to another variable, and how this idea applies to economics. It also explores the related concept of what-if questions in economics. In particular, it contrasts the modular theory of causal contributions and what-if questions (advocated by interventionists) with the ceteris paribus theory (advocated by Jim Heckman and others). It notes a problem with the modular theory raised by Nancy Cartwright. And it notes how, according to the ceteris paribus (...) theory, causal contributions and what-if questions are often indeterminate in economics. (shrink)
Reductionists say things like: all mental properties are physical properties; all normative properties are natural properties. I argue that the only way to resist reductionism is to deny that causation is difference making (thus making the epistemology of causation a mystery) or to deny that properties are individuated by their causal powers (thus making properties a mystery). That is to say, unless one is happy to deny supervenience, or to trivialize the debate over reductionism. To show this, I argue that (...) if properties are individuated by their causal powers then, surprisingly, properties are individuated by necessary co-exemplification. (shrink)
Do multi-level selection explanations of the evolution of social traits deepen the understanding provided by single-level explanations? Central to the former is a mathematical theorem, the multi-level Price decomposition. I build a framework through which to understand the explanatory role of such non-empirical decompositions in scientific practice. Applying this general framework to the present case places two tasks on the agenda. The first task is to distinguish the various ways of suppressing within-collective variation in fitness, and moreover to evaluate their (...) biological interest. I distinguish four such ways: increasing retaliatory capacity, homogenising assortment, and collapsing either fitness structure or character distribution to a mean value. The second task is to discover whether the third term of the Price decomposition measures the effect of any of these hypothetical interventions. On this basis I argue that the multi-level Price decomposition has explanatory value primarily when the sharing-out of collective resources is `subtractable'. Thus its value is more circumscribed than its champions Sober and Wilson (1998) suppose. (shrink)
I argue that a dual-aspect theory of consciousness, associated with a particular class of quantum states, can provide a consistent account of consciousness. I illustrate this with the use of coherent states as this class. The proposal meets Chalmers 'requirements of allowing a structural correspondence between consciousness and its physical correlate. It provides a means for consciousness to have an effect on the world (it is not an epiphenomenon, and can thus be selected by evolution) in a way that supplements (...) and completes conventional physics, rather than interfering with it. I draw on the work of Hameroff and Penrose to explain the consistency of this proposal with decoherence, while adding details to this work. The proposal is open to extensive further research at both theoretical and experimental levels. (shrink)
Calls into question the 'bedrock' reality of spacetime, examines the idea of alternative realities founded on different sorts of consciousness, and explores concepts of being and non-being in religious traditions.
Experiments are described, using electroencephalography (EEG) and simple tests of performance, which support the hypothesis that collapse of a quantum field is of importance to the functioning of the brain. The theoretical basis of our experiments is derived from Penrose (1989) who suggested that conscious decision-making is a manifestation of the outcome of quantum computation in the brain involving collapse of some relevant wave function. He also proposed that collapse of any wave function depends on a gravitational criterion. As different (...) brain areas are known to subserve different functions, we argue that `Penrose collapse' must occur in a particular brain area when performing a task that uses it. Further, taking an EEG from the area should amplify the gravitational prerequisite for collapse, so affecting task performance. There are no non-quantum theories which could lead one to expect that taking an EEG could directly affect task performance by subjects. The results of both pilot and main experiments indicated that task performance was indeed influenced by taking an EEG from relevant brain areas. Control experiments suggested that the influence was quantum mechanical in origin, and was not due to any experimental artefact. The results are statistically significant and merit attempts at replication in an independent laboratory, preferably with more sophisticated equipment than was available to us. (shrink)
An example is presented of a model of consciousness based on a description of the world which integrates the material and psychological aspects from the start. An indication is given of work under way to test the model.